Governor Mills Announces Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative to Provide Maine Students Hands On, Outdoor Coastal Learning Experiences this Summer

Delivering on a promise from her State of the State Address, Governor Mills will provide more than 1,000 middle and high school students with the opportunity for outdoor learning experiences this summer

Augusta, MAINE – Delivering on a promise from her State of the State Address, Governor Janet Mills announced today the launch of the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative to provide Maine students with hands-on, outdoor learning experiences this summer.

The Initiative, developed by the Maine Department of Education using Federal funding, will give middle and high school students the opportunity to participate in marine and coastal ecology learning programs, including marine research and exploration, boat building, sailing, career exploration with marine businesses, island immersion programs, and more.

For example, The Ecology School will take students on field trips to sand beaches, tidepools, and salt marshes to learn about Maine’s coastal ecosystems. The Herring Gut Coastal Science Center will expose students to sea run fish streams, oyster farms, mudflats, hatcheries, and laboratories, while also touring marine businesses across the Midcoast to let students see firsthand potential careers in Maine’s maritime industries. Sailing Ships Maine will offer students the chance to sail aboard a commercial training ship as an active member of the crew.

This outdoor learning Initiative will benefit at least 1,000 students from across Maine, with a focus on students from low-income families from regions of Maine where they do not typically have access to such experiences.

“The Maine outdoors is one of our greatest treasures. At a time when devices and screens too often grab the attention of our kids, getting them outside and connected to our state has never been more important,” said Governor Janet Mills. “In my State of the State Address, I promised that we would partner with outdoor organizations to create new learning opportunities and help young people who may have lost ground in school during the pandemic. Today I’m delivering on that promise. Our Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative will help our students learn, grow, develop new skills, and build an appreciation for the outdoors that will lead to new, lifelong interests.”

“The Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative offers hands on, highly engaging programs that allow Maine’s young people to explore and learn from our state's amazing bounty of natural resources,” said Pender Makin, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Education. “Being outside connecting with nature and each other is so important in helping students recover from the pandemic. These outdoor learning experiences will build teamwork and leadership skills, reduce stress and anxiety, and develop new skills in our vast outdoor classroom which will translate to success inside the classroom as well. We thank all of the organizations that stepped up to be a part of this exciting initiative.”

This kind of so-called experiential learning is highly engaging and allows students to problem solve and learn new skills in real world settings, build teamwork and leadership skills, increase self-confidence, and develop an appreciation of nature.

Spending time outdoors has been shown to help reduce stress and anxiety and to equip students with skills and knowledge that can help them succeed inside the classroom. Being able to interact with nature while building connections with peers is also beneficial students’ recovery following the disruptions and difficulties caused by the pandemic.

The organizations that will receive funding through the Initiative welcomed the announcement:

“Governor Mills' new Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative is such a breath of fresh air for Maine kids and for innovative education throughout the state. Through the support of the Maine Department of Education, Maine kids in middle school and high school will have access to experiential education experiences that get kids outside this summer to explore Maine's amazing diversity of coastal ecosystems,” said Drew Dumsch, Ecology School Executive Director. “As part of the Initiative, The Ecology School is proud to be offering three sessions of the new Governor's Academy for Coastal Ecology this July and will be offering up to 180 camperships for Maine students entering grades 6-9 to attend a free week of camp at our River Bend Farm campus in Saco."

“Schoodic Institute is thrilled to work with the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative to create hands-on coastal education opportunities here in Downeast Maine for under-resourced schools and low-income families,” said Nicholas Fisichelli, President and CEO of Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park. “Furthermore, the early-career internship positions created through this initiative will be springboards for bright careers in outdoor education in Maine.”

“Downeast Institute is delighted to have received support from the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative,” said Dianne Tilton, Executive Director of the Downeast Institute. “We have been helping students for years to enjoy science and math using outdoor marine science activities, and are excited to expand our program this summer.”

“All of us at Herring Gut Coastal Science Center are excited to bring the wonders and possibilities of marine science and aquaculture careers to Midcoast youth,” said Tom Mullin, Executive Director, Herring Gut Coastal Science Center. The middle school and high school students will have a chance to have some fantastic hands on experiences made possible by these grants.”

“We are thrilled to have been awarded the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative grant from the State of Maine,” said Adam Shepard Executive Director of Rippleffect. “The programs at Rippleffect, focused on connecting participants to themselves, each other, and the natural world around them, are more important now than ever. This grant will help us continue to grow these opportunities for all children in Maine.”

“Thanks to the support of the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative, Sailing Ships Maine will be able to connect more Maine students who need step-up experiences, the chance to disconnect from social media, and the opportunity to engage human-to-human in problem solving challenges that build connection and confidence,” said Alex Agnew, Executive Director of Sailing Ships Maine. “By taking a leap and going to sea for a multi-night tall ship sailing experience, students’ minds can be broadened about the potential of their lives at the same time they are gathering valuable skills in leadership, teamwork, science, technology, engineering and math in a fascinating and engaging hands-on learning environment. We are thrilled to be a partner in this initiative for Maine students!”

“Maine Maritime Academy is excited to have been selected as a grant recipient through the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative in support of Summer Coastal Ecology Programs. With the expansion of the Discovery Voyage program, MMA will be able to introduce students from around Maine to the coastal estuaries and marine environments that are vital to the economic sustainability of the coastal ecosystems of our state,” said Kimberly Reilly, Vice President of Enrollment Management and Marketing for Maine Maritime Academy. “Maine Maritime Academy’s location on Castine Harbor allows students to go beyond the classroom and affords them the opportunity to be on the water for an up-close exploration of coastal environments.”

“Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership is honored to receive DOE funding to support new and expanded experiential science education initiatives in partnership with The Game Loft, The University of Maine 4-H Camp & Learning Center at Bryant Pond, The Apprenticeshop, Hurricane Island Outward Bound School, along with teachers and leaders at partner schools across the state,” said Tara Elliott, Grants Coordinator for Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership. “This support from the DOE will bring new students to Hurricane Island's sustainable campus for hands-on learning and will expand our education initiatives into the school year, bolstering support for teachers and schools implementing place-based learning while also getting students more time doing science outside. We hear firsthand from students and teachers about the uniquely impactful experience of learning on Hurricane Island, and we are grateful to be able to offer these experiences to a greater number of Maine youth.”

Organizations participating in the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative include: Herring Gut Coastal Science Center in Port Clyde, Hurricane Island + Bryant Pond in Bryant Pond, Hurricane Island + Game Loft, Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, Sailing Ships Maine in Portland, the Ecology School in Saco, Boothbay Sea and Science Center in Boothbay, Casco Bay High School and Rippleffect in Portland, Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Science and Education in Beals, Hurricane Island Foundation in Rockland, Laudholm Trust in Wells, Rippleffect in Portland, Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park, and the University of Maine System Cooperative Extension summer camps at Blueberry Cove and Tanglewood.

The Initiative is funded by nearly $900,000 in Federal funding from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Funds. Full program descriptions can be found here.